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Target university freshers to halt spread of meningitis, say researchers

A campaign aimed at first-year university students significantly boosted immunisation rates and could help reduce the spread of meningitis.
Meningitis vaccine

A vaccination awareness drive targeting first-year university students significantly boosted immunisation rates and could help reduce the spread of meningitis, say researchers.

In a paper published in the academic journal Public Health , the researchers show how a campus-based vaccination campaign saw almost three-quarters of first-year students arriving at the University of Nottingham immunised against meningitis.

As part of a five-day campaign in September 2015, first-year students were asked by healthcare professionals from the University of Nottingham Health Service if they had had the Men ACWY vaccination. Those students who said they hadn't were offered an immediate free vaccination.

Improved vaccination uptake

Of the 7,049 students who were interviewed, only 31% had previously been vaccinated a figure study authors say was too low to significantly reduce the spread of meningitis.

However,

A vaccination awareness drive targeting first-year university students significantly boosted immunisation rates and could help reduce the spread of meningitis, say researchers.

In a paper published in the academic journal Public Health, the researchers show how a campus-based vaccination campaign saw almost three-quarters of first-year students arriving at the University of Nottingham immunised against meningitis.

As part of a five-day campaign in September 2015, first-year students were asked by healthcare professionals from the University of Nottingham Health Service if they had had the Men ACWY vaccination. Those students who said they hadn't were offered an immediate free vaccination.

Improved vaccination uptake

Of the 7,049 students who were interviewed, only 31% had previously been vaccinated – a figure study authors say was too low to significantly reduce the spread of meningitis.

However, following the campaign the number of first-year students who received the Men ACWY vaccination had risen to 71%.

The study has now been highlighted by Public Health England as an example of best practice in its own report on managing and preventing such diseases in higher education.

At-risk groups

Research lead David Turner, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences, said: ‘It is really important to offer the Men ACWY vaccine to first-year university students to prevent cases of meningitis in this at-risk group.’

Higher rates of transmission of the meningitis bacteria occur in students during the first year of university and, as students tend to travel around the country to return home or to visit friends, there is a risk they could spread the disease to other areas of the UK.

Aggressive strain

In England, cases of meningitis caused by the meningitis W bacteria have been increasing since 2009 due to the emergence of the highly aggressive strain ST-11.

The ST-11 strain is associated with severe illness which often requires treatment in intensive care and has a higher death rate than other strains of meningococcal disease.

In response, Public Health England introduced a programme of immunisation offering vaccination against four different types of meningitis – A, C, W and Y – to all adolescents and young adults aged 14-18 years of age, as well as first-year university students.

Successful campaign

The aim was to disrupt the transmission of the meningitis W bacteria and to prevent its further spread to at-risk groups of people in the wider population.

RCN public health professional lead Helen Donovan said the University of Nottingham research would be of interest to practice and occupational health nurses.

She said: ‘A campaign like this also boosts student awareness that they are more at risk due to the close proximity of other students in halls of residence.

‘GP surgeries often find it difficult to target this age group and I think this gives practice and occupational health nurses something to think about in terms of how they can achieve the best uptake of vaccinations where they are based.’


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